Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Bali: Dreamy Getaways at Ayana and Rimba

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

Smiles, bows, and frangipani flower necklaces – graceful greetings upon entering the world of dreams. The world where the air is always fragrant, the lush tropical greenery is intermittently awashed in warm downpours and sunlight; where subtle pleasures and indulgencies are delivered in a myriad ways – where you feel light and floating on air, like a flower petal… Bali!

Ayana Resort and Spa and Rimba Jimbaran Bali comprise Bali’s only integrated resort, a winner of multiple awards, located on a 220-acre Karang Mas Estate in south-eastern Bali, not far from Ngurah Rai International Airport.

The Villas at Ayana (“a place of refuge” in Sanskrit) consist of 78 individual secluded luxurious dwellings with private plunge pools and gazebos on limestone cliffs above the Indian Ocean. My husband and I felt positively pampered when our amiable on-call butler took us in a golf cart to our exquisite Cliff Villa surrounded by coconut palms and flowering hibiscus and bougainvillea.   

Everything seemed special, designed for ultimate relaxation and enjoyment inside the traditional Balinese-style gate, under the alang-alang thatched roof… Inspired by the Balinese philosophy of Tri Hita Karana (“three reasons for well-being” – harmony with people, deities, and nature), indoor areas seamlessly connected with the outdoors. In our spacious living room decorated with Indonesian art pieces and antiques, glass double doors opened to a green lawn of a private patio with a pool and tinkling fountains.

In our large marble bathroom the bath tub was filled with red rose petals and yellow frangipani flowers. Behind the tub, a picture window framed frangipani trees covered in white, pink, and yellow blooms. Heavy curtains and a canopied bed offered sweet dreams in the bedroom.

The beneficial presence of water was felt everywhere. (Rainy season holds its own attraction in Bali). We spent plenty of time at the Thermes Marins Bali Spa, unique to Southeast Asia, in the largest in the world Aquatonic Seawater Therapy Pool, deservedly praised for therapeutic properties of its vigorous underwater massages performed by powerful jets. We indulged in deep tissue Balinese massage with age-old techniques used by the skilled and thorough spa masseuses.  

At Dava (Sanskrit for “water”) restaurant with stunning water features, koi ponds and lotus pools, we enjoyed flawlessly served a la cart breakfast, included with the Villa stay.

By the end of the day, we picked fresh-from-the-boat rock lobster and giant prawns from an icy display at Kisik Bar and Grill right on the beach. Grilled, sauced, and served with an array of Balinese accompaniments, our dinner was brought to our table on the sand, lit by glowing tiki torches by the Ocean Beach Pool.

We took a brief walk to the iconic Rock Bar perched 46 ft above the clear waters of Jimbaran Bay. Guests are taken down to the Bar in a lift car descending along the steep cliff. At sunset, dozens of Bali vacationers line up for the lift, although the hotel guests are treated as VIPs and use their own, shorter line.

Cocktails at the Rock Bar are designed by international bar consultant Sebastien Bonnefoi, and only the highest quality imported liquors are used for their preparation, blended with local fruit, herbs, and spices.
Ayana, formerly known as The Ritz-Carlton Bali Resort & Spa, maintains the highest level of service standards while meeting the popular demand of affordability – especially with its newer sister property – Rimba.

A timely and complimentary resort shuttle in mere minutes delivered us from more traditional Ayana to the boldly contemporary Rimba with its ark-shaped lobby, designed in the style of a ship surrounded by reflective pools. The 5-star hotel has 282 luxurious rooms and suites decorated with natural materials, like reclaimed wood and plant fiber.

From the balcony of our Jimbaran Bay Suite, we admired a sweet sound of a flute – the performer in a floor-length concert gown was standing barefoot on a tiny platform half submerged in an oval-shaped endless pool as if suspended in the air. As soon as the nightly sunset-time musical performance was over, we headed for Unique Rooftop Bar, produced by the creators of the Rock Bar, and situated on top of one of Rimba’s four buildings. Unique Bar offers dramatic 360-degree views of the Uluwatu Hills to the south-east, and ocean views to the west.         

Here we lounged on bright-blue long chairs under an orange umbrella, sipped our emerald island mojitos garnished with passion fruit seeds and sugar cane sticks, and took leisurely swims in a pool cleverly positioned between the tables and the long chairs area.

After a good-night sleep on a snow-white fluffy bed in our large and quiet room, tastefully decorated in brilliant and muted earthy hues, and before leaving the hospitable resort, we had a substantial breakfast at To’ge restaurant.

The morning buffet featured dishes inspired by the street food from all corners of Asia as well as Western classics like made-to-order omelets at live cooking stations, waffles and pancakes, hash brown and bacon. True to form, we picked Indonesian chicken and rice, local tropical fruit, coconut juice from a whole coconut, and Bali coffee.
More information at:,

Viceroy Bali: In the Lap of Luxury on a Precipice in the Rainy Season

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov

A big wedding anniversary is no joke. The things we’ve been through! The ordeals we’ve survived together! It’s like looking back at a battlefield and realizing that love does conquer all, after all. We needed to celebrate our little family event with an appropriate pomp! That’s how buying plane tickets to a world-famous resort island turned from “we’ll do it one day” into “we do it today, and we’re going to Bali, baby!” 

Upon leaving the Ngurah Rai International Airport building, and all through the drive along winding narrow left-side roads of central Bali, I’m amazed, enthralled, and fascinated by the giant sculptures of Hindu gods and goddesses; scary ugly demons carved of lava rock, guarding entrances to multiple temples and dwellings under coconut palms and blooming plumeria trees; stone and wood carvings and pottery displayed in front of endless artisan shops. Children in chocolate-and-coffee school uniforms, women with baskets on their heads, teens on motorbikes, and sometimes crowds of brightly dressed people gathered for a temple ceremony move to and fro on our way.       

We head to Viceroy Bali – an exclusive five-star resort, literally cut into a vertical mountain side high above the luscious green Valley of the Kings in the vicinity of a bustling Ubud village.

Beautifully appointed amid tropical wilderness, secluded and serene, Viceroy Bali offers unique and exotic experiences for newlyweds – and for olden-weds, too. 25 luxury villas under the traditional Balinese thatched roofs are light, spacious, with indoor-outdoor living spaces, open-plan bedrooms and living rooms, marble bathrooms and private dipping pools.

The villas are perched on a steep ridge one above another in three rows, all facing the opposite side of a deep canyon overgrown with tropical forest.

Our Deluxe Terrace Villa has two glass double doors opening to a private patio with an overflowing endless-edge pool, a cozy gazebo for two balanced on its far corner, and on the other side – a small fountain streaming from a stone bowl held by a sculpted couple in tender embrace (Shiva and Parvathi?)

Inside, the squeaky-clean airy room is furnished with a snow-white king bed, sand-colored plush sofa with throw pillows, work desk (as if anyone would be able to work here!), and lounge and coffee tables. It’s thoughtfully equipped with an illy espresso machine and mini bar, and decorated with archival Balinese sepia prints, masks, and stick puppets.  

At the tranquil indoor-outdoor Lembah Spa overlooking the Petanu River Gorge, our relaxing couple’s massage starts with a foot bath – the copper tub filled to the brim with rose petals. Spa therapists, trained in Swiss massage, are highly skilled and soon make us forget all the exhaustion of a long flight.

After the spa treatment, in pouring rain, we are escorted under large umbrellas to a next door CasCades restaurant, where high tea with finger sandwiches and house-made pastries is served just for us!
The restaurant has no walls, and from any corner we can observe the endless jungle, lashed by the incessant rain, and then suddenly blue sky, foggy vapors rising from the green lawns, and the large hotel pool – sparkling-blue again, with a little tiled island lined with long chairs. 

CasCades, multiple award-winning restaurant, serves creative Asian-influenced French cuisine, with nightly offerings including little masterpieces like Tomato Carpaccio with marinated cherry tomatoes, parmesan panna cotta and beetroot cream; Barramundi Fish Teppanyaki with crispy skin, on avocado, tomato, and lemon salsa, garnished with celeriac and potato puree; and Passion Fruit Mousse for dessert – fragrant and delicate, served with dark chocolate chunks and passion fruit jelly drops.

Come morning, we discover yet another CasCades wonder – a lavish a la carte breakfast, included with the room stay, and served on white table cloth. I admire Indonesian-style eggs Benedict with traditional dried beef, and I like the crepes stuffed with fruit compote and crème anglais, but the best of the best to me is a plate of tropical island-grown fruit, or fresh fruit salad served in a glass with a side of anise syrup.  

After breakfast, we take a free hotel shuttle to Ubud village and walk to a sacred monkey forest Mandala Suci Wenara Wana.
Cute little fluffy gray monkeys – many with tiny babies, firmly attached to their bellies – roam the trees, sit on the road, busily pounding fallen leaves with rocks, and communicate with visitors, looking for apple bananas sold from a cart right there, and skillfully peeling them. They go in and out of a locked up temple with a note on a gate, “For worshippers only,” and rest upon stone statues that surround the sacred ground.

We continue to walk around the village, a known center for fine arts, dance, and music. We take a Balinese dance lesson at Arma museum with a professional dancer Ketut Riawati. When she tells us that a few years ago she traveled to San Francisco, and danced on a Berkeley stage in a large ensemble, my husband and I look at each other in disbelief. We’ve seen that performance! That was a remarkable show – only one in many years, and we remember it well – authentic Balinese dance and gamelan music brought to the California stage in all its exquisite beauty. We double our efforts to get to the core of the arm and eye dance movements (“Long arm! Big eyes, never small!”)…

We manage to pack a half-day tour departing from the hotel into our short stay at Viceroy Bali. Our experienced and friendly driver takes us to the “Moon Rock” temple Batu Bulan to watch a Balinese dance performance Pemaksan Barong Denjalan.

We drive to the “Elephant Cove” temple Goa Gojah, where worshippers still bring fruit and flower offerings in white coconut leaves to a Buddha statue, toppled over by an earthquake.

We admire a view of terraced rice paddies – emerald-green in drizzling rain, and travel to water temple Pura Tirta Empul where pilgrims perform purification rituals in a deep pool formed by underground streams.

To bring back an exotic souvenir, we stop at a coffee plantation Teba Sari Bali Agrotourism, and get some Luwak coffee made with locally grown coffee berries eaten and “naturally processed” by mongooses. The small fluffy-tailed animals live on the plantation, gladly eat sweet red berry flesh, and excrete indigestible coffee beans, fermented in their stomachs. The beans then are washed, roasted, and sold as a delicacy.     

Viceroy Bali, a member of Small Luxury Hotels, is located in the central foothills of the Gianyar regency, and is reachable for more information and reservations via phone +62.361.971.777, email, website, or the Small Luxury Hotels of the World Website

Monday, December 15, 2014

Welcome to Cat Town in Oaktown

By Emma Krasov, photography by Yuri Krasov
Barely a few months old, Cat Town Cafe in Oakland, California, already received its first national television stint on Saturday Night Live. The NYC comedians quipped that the new café gives itself “F” for sanitary conditions not waiting for a health inspector to do so (or something along those lines).
In fact, the new café/cat adoption non-profit started with making sure that all requirements of the health code are being met with a super-powerful ventilation system, a solid wall and a two-door hallway to separate the Cat Zone from the Café, and a strict policy that keeps café workers from entering the room with cats.
Clean, light, freshly painted with colorful city view murals, and furnished with playpens, pet beds, and white chairs and benches, the Cat Zone, which can be observed through a window in the café’s inner wall, at first glance looks like a preschool study room.
Granted, children are present most of the time, and cats, true to their nature, are mostly napping in cats’ “condos” or at the very top of toy houses that depict Oakland’s architectural icons.        

Guests, whose free visits are limited to 60 minutes, are allowed to bring in a paper cup of coffee, covered with a plastic lid, or they can have their snack (bagels, vegan sandwiches, and pastries) before or after entering the Cat Zone.   

The overwhelming popularity of this first in America permanent cat café is the reason for time limit on visits with the cats, and an on-line reservation system at    

Founded by Ann Dunn with a co-founder Adam Myatt, the Cat Town Café/adoption center accepts at-risk shelter cats from the Oakland Animal Services (Oakland’s overburdened and under resourced municipal shelter) and brings the entire adoption process to a new, much more logistically sound (and pleasurable) level.

Cat lovers of all ages, young and older couples, and families with children flock to the 2,200 sq.f. space on a street corner, with floor-to-ceiling windows and a rotating cat-centric art gallery to spend time with the delicate-natured felines – too gentle for the crowded animal shelter conditions – and more often than not to pick their new wonderful pet, or two.  

Cat Town, founded by Ann Dunn in 2011, is a 501(c)(3) cat rescue organization whose mission is to find homes for animals unable to handle the stress of the shelter environment. The cat cafe allows Cat Town to expand its capacity to get many more cats out of cages and into homes.
The Cat Town Cafe is located at 2869 Broadway, corner of 29th Street, in Oakland, California. The cafe is open from 8:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m., Wednesday to Sunday. The Cat Zone is open from 10:00 a.m. to 7:00 p.m. Wednesday to Sunday. More information can be found at